My Whiting Ancestors

William H.

Whiting is my middle name. I learned as a child that the name came from my great-grandfather, William H. Whiting (1858-1919). My maternal grandmother Gladys was his only child, so this was a way of carrying on their family name. William owned a hardware and ship fitting business in Baltimore, Maryland logically enough called Wm. H. Whiting & Co. Here are photos of William. H. and his store.

Around 1890 he married Carrie (Caroline) Letitia Yeager and they had a daughter, my grandmother Gladys. His business was successful enough to enable him, in 1904, to build an eight-room summer “cottage” in Blue Ridge Summit, Pennsylvania, called “Altamont.”

Wm. H. died in 1919. Five years later, in 1924, this photograph was taken on the porch at Altamont, showing his mother-in-law Rebecca Catherine Isaacs (seated), his widow Carrie, his daughter Gladys, and his newborn granddaughter, my mother Caroline.

Altamont gave much pleasure to our family for a full century, until it was sold, after my mother’s death, in 2004.

My parents didn’t mention William H.’s own ancestry, and I never asked. I only started getting curious about the earlier Whitings after my mother’s death, and my father’s in 2010. As well as reminding me of my own mortality, their deaths piqued my interest in the web of life that links me to them and to our mutual ancestors.

I found ancestry.com tremendously valuable. It combines a terrific tool for managing genealogies with an enormous searchable database of ancestry information. Cleverly, it’s free to create an ancestry.com account and start building your tree; you are only asked to pay when you want to see actual copies of the documents you find. The site also affords an easy mechanism for users to share their family trees. This is helpful, but also hazardous, since many of those trees are bogus.

James

Ancestry.com had never heard of William H. Whiting, but his parents were easy to find.

We know from Baltimore marriage records that a James Whiting married an Emily Jane Taylor in 1838, and the 1870 and 1880 federal censuses show James and Emily, both born around 1815, heading a household that includes William H, born around 1858. No other Whiting children are mentioned so it seems likely that he was their only child.

The census records include a lot of interesting information: In 1870 James is identified as a “Retired Merchant” owning real property worth $14,000 and personal property worth $60,000 – around $1.2 million in today’s money. It also (incorrectly) shows James as having been born in Delaware:

In 1870 the Whiting household included five other people, three of whom had the last name Gorsuch: J.H., 26, a male “Clerk in Hardware,” Katie L., 22, “keeping house,” and Emily, 9 months. In 1880 the Whiting household is just James, Emily and Wm. H., both James and Wm. H. being described as “Hardware Merchant”. The Gorsuch’s are the next household listed, and J.H. does “Galvanizing.” In this entry James Whiting, and his parents (which we will show is inaccurate with respect to his father), are shown as having been born in Maryland:

The family business was apparently started by James, as shown in a series of Baltimore Directories:

An 1849 directory (the first mention I’ve found) shows James living at 73 Park and with a hardware store at 113 Pratt st:

 

An 1858 directory has a similar listing (with a lot of little changes):

 

In 1868 the only listing, under “Hardware - Wholesale,” is for “Whiting & Co. 130 w Pratt.”

In 1874 we see a business listing for “J.A. and A.L. Whiting” (I have no idea who A.L. was!) at 130 w Pratt, and a new mention of James as a tobacconist, next door at 126 w Pratt. James now appears to be living at 634 Lexington:

The 1880 listing is similar, except “Wm. H. Whiting,” who would then have been about 22, is shown as a clerk at 75 St. Paul, along with John Gorsuch, no doubt the J.H. Gorsuch mentioned in the censuses.

In the 1884 directory “Whiting J. A. & Co. (J. A. Whiting) hardware 130 w Pratt” is still listed, even though James had died the previous year, but there is now also a listing for “Whiting Wm. H. & Co. (Wm. H. Whiting, John H. Gorsuch) hardware 126 w Pratt”. Same in 1885 and 1886.

By 1888 the listing for James’s company has been dropped and William is now in business with Catherine L. Gorsuch, presumably “Katie” from the censuses, now apparently John’s widow:

 

David

The key to the Whiting genealogy turned out to be David Whiting (1751-1815). The Greensboro, Maryland, history web page shows that David arrived there at least as early as 1783. Two years later he leased a parcel of land on the banks of the Great Choptank River, and built a tannery. He was evidently successful, since he was able to build a four-story house, where he apparently lived until 1814, when he sold his lease. His house still stands and is now a Maryland historic site:

 

Before 1800, when David was 49 years old, he married Eunity (or Unity) Purdin. She was half his age, but it was a fruitful marriage, with eight children over the remaining 15 years of David’s life. His last child, James, was born on April 1, 1815, less than two months before David’s death, on May 27. This is all plausible and consistent, but there is a problem: The information in this paragraph, unlike that above and below it, came from other users’ family trees, a distinctly unreliable source. So I needed to find corroboration for this story, especially as it related to James.

The first independent source I found is the 1810 federal census. It shows David as head of a Greensboro household composed of ten people. David is named but the others are only listed by sex and age range:

·         a woman between 26 and 44 years old – presumably Unity, who would have been 34.

·         3 boys under 10 – presumably David, Jr. (1807-), William (1808-1843) and John (1809-).

·         one girl under 10 – presumably Elizabeth (1809-).

·         a boy and a girl between 10 and 15 – the boy could be Joseph (1800-1849) and the girl might be Mary (1803-), though she would only have been 7.

·         two slaves!

James and his brother Samuel (1812-1871) had not yet been born.

The scene then shifts from Greensboro to Baltimore. This involved a lot of detective work!

An 1819 Baltimore city directory referenced in ancestry.com shows Unity Whiting living at “61, Front, Old Town,” presumably after David’s death. The 1820 census is consistent. It shows her as head of a household including two boys under 10 – presumably Samuel and James – one girl under 10 – arguably Elizabeth, though she would have been 11 – one boy 10 to 15 – which could be William – and one boy 15 to 25, which could be Joseph. John and David, Jr. aren’t listed so perhaps they had died. Mary would have been 17 so may have left home.

The 1840 federal census shows Unity still heading a large household, which could include, from the age ranges, either Samuel or both James and Emily. An 1842 Baltimore city directory shows Unity living on “Pratt st[reet] e[ast] of Caroline”.

By the 1850 federal census (which mercifully starts including names!) Unity is living in a large household headed by her son Samuel. As an aside, that household also included two adult children of his brother Joseph, who the other trees say had died in Panama the previous year. A ship’s manifest in ancestry.com shows that Samuel, his wife, and five of their children returned from Venezuela in 1848, probably after visiting Joseph.

All plausible, but I still had a nagging doubt. How could we be sure that the James Whiting who was William H.’s father was David’s son? I hoped to tie this down by ordering copies of James’s and William’s death certificates. James’ arrived first. It showed him having been born in Baltimore. That wasn’t inconsistent, since David sold his Greensboro lease in 1814 and might have moved his family to Baltimore before James’ birth -- and David’s death -- in the following year. But it also wasn’t helpful, since there were other Whitings in Baltimore, who might also have been James’s parents.

At long last William H.’s death certificate arrived. It showed his father’s place of birth as Caroline County, MD – Greensboro’s county. Right or wrong – and in fact it seems more likely that James’ certificate was correct – this shows that James’s family came from Greensboro, so James must have been David’s son.

These Whitings all died in their 60s:

·         David in 1815 at 63.

·         James in 1883 at 67 of “apoplexy.”

·         Wm. H. in 1919 at 60 of a “cerebral hemorrhage.”

·         Gladys in 1960 at 68 of a “stroke.”

My mother lived to be 79 and my father to 87, however, so I’m not overly stressed by this. It’s also interesting to note that the causes of death for James, Wm. and Gladys could have been the same condition, with different names in different eras.

Billerica

Now that we know that David is my great-great-great-grandfather, why stop there? Where did he come from? Who were his ancestors? The other family trees on ancestry.com -- and even some published genealogies -- assert that David was born in Buckland, Mass., an obscure western Massachusetts town with just one notable feature: the “Bridge of Flowers,” a beautifully repurposed trolley bridge, spans the river that divides Buckland from Shelburne Falls. But this is impossible, since the first settlers didn’t arrive in Buckland until 1779, nearly three decades after David’s birth, in 1751!

I believe that the mistake arose from a misreading of an accurate genealogy appearing on pp. 700-701 of The History of Buckland, 1779-1935, by Fannie Shaw Kendrick. This refers to “David, b. Dec. 1751; sett. In Greensboro, Md., abt. 1773 [although the Greensboro history page shows him first buying property in 1783].” as the son of Jonathan Whiting (1723-), who “rem[oved] to Buck[land] as early as 1784.” An incautious reader must have jumped to the conclusion that being mentioned in the history of Buckland implied that David was born there. In fact the town records of Billerica, Mass., show that David and all his siblings were born there, where Jonathan lived before moving to Buckland. David moved to Greensboro well before his father and his brother Jacob moved to Buckland. Not only was David not born in Buckland, but there is no reason to think that he ever even lived there.

The last part of the story is how the Whitings got to Billerica, and what they did there. No more detective work will be needed, for the Billerica town records are complete, and the story of the early days is told in the History of Billerica.

For four generations almost every one of David’s ancestors lived and died in Billerica:

Apart from David and his father, who were born there but left, there were only a couple of exceptions:

·         David’s great-grandfather William Patten died in Cambridge, after living most of his life in Billerica.

·         David’s great-grandmother Rebecca Parker was born in the neighboring town of Chelmsford, where her father, Jacob, was one of the original settlers.

The community was so close-knit that David’s parents were second cousins. The extreme insularity of the Billericans makes the wanderings of Jonathan and his offspring even more striking: Jonathan’s wife died in 1780, and by the end of the Revolutionary War, in 1783, David was in Greensboro and Jonathan and his son Jacob were or would shortly arrive in Buckland. The following generation ventured as far as Venezuela and Panama. We can only speculate why they scattered this way, but no doubt the story would be intriguing.

The most interesting generation is that of David’s great-great-grandparents (the rightmost column above), most of whom were among the earliest Billerica settlers. First among them was Jonathan Danforth, who emigrated from England with his father, and was one of the original settlers of the town, probably by 1654. As described in the Billerica Town History he became a surveyor, town clerk and captain in the local militia. Per the town historian: “Our Jonathan Danforth was of worthy stock, and in view of his long life and many and varied services, he might be recognized as the father of the town.”

His house looked like this:

The local Indians were friendly at first, but relations soon soured and Indian raids became a recurrent threat. In 1675 four of the thirteen houses fortified as “garrisons” against Indian raids were ancestors’: The houses of Jonathan Danforth and James Kidder, across from one another on West Road, Thomas Patten’s house, and Rev. Samuel Whiting’s house, which was the main garrison. In that year Kidder was “placed in charge of the Indians at Wamesit,” a challenging task which the town historian speculates led to his death the following year. The local Indians maintained “friendly neutrality” at that time, but in 1692 Zachary Shed, the son of ancestor Daniel Shed, was apparently killed by Indians, along with his wife and five children. The Billerica town history vividly recounts an even bloodier massacre three years later, on August 5, 1695, involving my ancestor, John Rogers, Jr., whose then-deceased wife was Daniel Shed’s daughter.

In the northerly part of the town, on the east side of Concord River, lived a number of families, who, through without garrisons and in a time of war, seemed to be under no apprehensions of danger. … The Indians came suddenly upon them in the day time. … [I]t was reported they were on horseback, and from that circumstance ‘were not suspected for Indians, till they surprised the house they came to.’ They entered the house of John Rogers, son of one of the early settlers, about noon, and while from the fatigues of the day he was enjoying repose upon his bed, they discharged one of their arrows, which entered his neck and pierced the jugular vein. Awakened with this sudden and unexpected attack, he started up, seized the arrow, which he forcibly withdrew, and expired with the instrument of death in his hand. A woman being in the chamber threw herself out of the window and, though severely wounded, effected her escape by concealing herself among some flags. A young woman was scalped and left for dead, but survived the painful operation and lived for many years afterwards. A son and daughter of Mr. Rogers were taken prisoners. The family of John Levistone suffered most severely. His mother-in-law and five young children were killed and his eldest daughter captured. Thomas Rogers and his oldest son were killed. … Fifteen persons were killed or taken at this surprisal.

The children of John Rogers who were taken captive were “Daniel, age 12, and Mercy,” not my ancestor Mary, who was already married to William Patten. (We aren’t told the name of the woman who was sharing John’s midday “repose.”) The Indian wars mostly spared Billerica after that grisly attack, but in 1697 Rev. Samuel’s son John was killed by Indians in Lancaster, Mass., and in 1704 his son Samuel was taken captive in Dunstable, Mass., and carried to Canada, but eventually escaped.

I will conclude with sketches about Samuel Whiting, Jr. and his parents, but first I’d like to outline where the other Billerica ancestors appear to have come from. I say “appear” because I haven’t validated this information the same way I have the Whiting and Billerica links.

As you might expect, almost every twig of the Billerica branch leads back to England:

·         Dorcas Chester’s parents were among the first settlers of Wethersfield, Connecticut, and her paternal grandmother, Dorothy Hooker, was an original proprietor at Hartford in 1639. Dorothy was probably part of the group that her brother, Rev. Thomas Hooker (not an ancestor) led to Hartford in 1635 from Cambridge, Mass., to escape the oppressive Puritan theocracy of Rev. Thomas Cotton. Dorothy and Dorcas’ father emigrated from Blaby, Leicester, England. (Per the Memorial History of Hartford County.)

·         Jonathan Danforth emigrated from Framlingham, Suffolk, England at least as early as 1636, along with his father, Nicholas, and his more famous brother, Thomas Danforth.

·         Elizabeth Poulter emigrated from Rockford, Essex, England with her parents.

·         William Brown supposedly was born in Boston in 1632. The family trees claim that his father was Scottish and his mother was English.

·         Elizabeth Ruggles was supposedly born in Boston in 1633. The family trees claim that her father was from Sudbury, Suffolk, England.

·         James Kidder emigrated from East Grinstead, Sussex, England.

·         Anna Moore was supposedly born in Cambridge, Mass. in 1630. Her father was supposedly from Maldon, Essex, England.

·         Jacob Parker emigrated from England.

·         Sarah Wise was supposedly born in Ipswich, Mass. in 1627, but this is highly unlikely since the town wasn’t settled until 1633. It is more likely that she was born in Ipswich, Suffolk, England and emigrated later with her parents.

·         Thomas Patten was born in Cambridge, Mass. in 1636. His parents had emigrated the previous year from Mandeville, Somerset, England.

·         Rebecca Paine was born in 1642 in Dedham, Mass. Her mother, and presumably also her father, emigrated from England. Her marriage to Thomas Patten in 1662 in Dedham is shown in the town records of both Billerica and Dedham.

·         John Rogers, Jr. was born in Watertown, Mass. His father apparently emigrated from England, and probably also his mother.

·         Mary Shed was born in Braintree, Mass. in 1647. Her father apparently emigrated from Braintree, Essex, England. Her mother supposedly was born in Braintree, Mass. in 1628, of parents who emigrated from England, but I suspect that she also was born in Braintree, England since the earliest records from the Massachusetts town date from 1640.

I stopped pursuing these lines with each immigrant ancestor, and I leave to the reader the pleasure and challenge of tracing their European roots.

Rev. Samuel, Jr.

Samuel Whiting, Jr. was born in 1633 in Skirbeck, near Boston, Lincolnshire, England. He was the son of Samuel Whiting, D.D. and Elizabeth St. John (of whom more below), and was only three years old when they brought him to America, in 1636. He graduated at Harvard College in 1653 and in 1658 nineteen Billerica settlers (including three ancestors: Jonathan Danforth, John Rogers, Sr. and William Pattin) invited him to become the first minister of the town, although it took five more years to formally establish a church.

Samuel Jr. left no writings, but a few gleanings from the Billerica town records give us a glimpse of his life. In 1693 he freed a slave, “Simon Negro,” who had served him for 31 years and was then about 40. By 1702, Samuel was described in a town report as “being “in a weak & languishing condition;” five years later an assistant minister was brought in to help him; and in five more years he died, thirteen days after the death of his wife, Dorcas.

Rev. Samuel, Sr.

Through the wonders of the interwebs I stumbled on a charming little volume entitled Memoir of Rev. Samuel Whiting, D.D., and of His Wife, Elizabeth St. John, with References to Some of Their English Ancestors and American Descendants, by William Whiting (a distant cousin). It offers a wealth of information about Samuel, Jr.’s parents, from which I will draw a few nuggets.

Samuel, Sr., was born in 1597, in Boston, Lincolnshire, England, of which his father was then mayor (as, in due course, became each of his brothers). He received his A.B., M.A. and Doctor of Divinity degrees from Cambridge University. His first ministry was at Lynn Regis, and his second at Skirbeck, near Boston, but he was continually embroiled with his bishops over doctrinal issues. He married Elizabeth St. John in 1629. Samuel’s friend, the imperious Puritan Rev. John Cotton, moved to Boston in 1633. To escape continuing religious persecution Samuel and his wife followed in 1636. Samuel became the first minister of a town north of Boston then called “Sawgust,” but soon renamed “Lynn,” in honor of the English city in which Samuel first preached. One incident recounted in the Memoir casts an interesting light on the Whiting household [“ye“ is “the” and “yt” is “that”]:

1654, June ye 20: Mch grief hath fallen on Mr Whiting and his famile. Ye Indjan maid Ruth, whom they did so mch love, on ye last Lord his daie did run awaie and again join herself to her heathen people of ye wilderness. It be now eight years or thereabout since ye godlie minister took her a gift from her Indjan mother to bring her vpp in ye nurture and admonition of ye Lord. And she hath been these manie years as one of hjs own children, eating of hjs own bread and drinking of his own cupp, receiving godlie instruction at meeting and under his roofe, and learning at his schoole. And she did trulie seem like a fresh blooming wilde flower, wch we so loved to liken her unto. … But she hath gon.

Samuel became an Overseer of Harvard College in 1654. He played a role in many of the religious and political controversies that plagued the early decades of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, most notably a 1671 petition from Samuel Sr., Samuel Jr. and twelve other ministers that successfully urged the Massachusetts General Court to reverse a decision that undermined the separation of church and state.

The best overview of his life is this charming journal entry, made by a parishioner upon Samuel’s death, in 1679:

Decemr ye 12: Yester even died ye dear & reverend Mr Whiting. He hath laboured among vs this fortie yeare and vpwards, and was mch beloved both here and abroad. Hjs godlie temper was seen in ye sweet smile yt he alwaies wore. Hjs learning was great. In ye Hebrewe jt hath been said none on this side of ye water could come vp to him. He greatlie labored for ye children and for manie yeares would haue as manie as he could come to hjs house on everie Lord his day after ye publique worship was over and be catechized and instructed by him in Bible truths. And on week daies he also instructed ye children such as would in Latin and other learning of ye schooles. He was not fond of disputations and wordie wranglings about doctrine but laid down hjs poynts plainlie and then firmlie defended them by ye Scriptures, not taking ye time, as ye manner of some is, to tell how others look vpon ye same and then to tell how false was ye eye with wch they looked. He writ some things yt come out in print and all testified to their being sound in doctrine, liberal in sentiment and plain and practicall.

Mr Whiting was a good liver saying ye he did not find yt mortifying ye flesh meant pinching ye stomach. Hjs wife was a right comelie dame and belonged to a great familie, being Chief lustice Saint John his daughter [sister, actually]. She was a godlie woman and did mch to chear and help her husband. By her learning she was able to giue mch instruction to ye damsels of ye parish and they did all love her as she were a tender mother She died some above two yeares agone; and he did greatlie mourn for her.

Mr Whiting had a noble garden wherein were delicious fruits and manie good things for kitchen vse. He had a score of appill trees from wch he made delicious cider. And jt hath been said yt an Indjan once coming to hjs house, and Mistress Whiting giving him a drink of ye cider, he did set down ye pot and smaking hjs lipps say yt Adam and Eve were rightlie damned for eating ye appills in ye garden of Eden; they should haue made them into cider.

Mr Whiting was of a quiet temper and not mch giuen to extasies, but yet he would sometimes take a merrie part in pleasant companie. Once coming among a gay partie of young people he kist all ye maides and said yt he felt all ye better for jt And I think they too felt all ye better for jt, for they did hug their armes around hjs neck and kiss him back again right warmlie; they all soe loved him.

For ye few past yeares Mr Whiting hath been mch exercised by sickness. His paynes haue at times been soe greate yt he must needes cry out But he bore all wth godlie patience and had kind wordes for them yt were by him.

 He was a man of middle size, dark skin and straight fine hair. Hjs hands were white and soft, mch like some fine ladys. In preaching he did not mch exercise hjs bodie. But hjs clear voice and pleasant way were as potent to hold fast ye thoughts of old and young. He had great care in his dress while preaching, saying yt his hearers should not be made to haue their eyes vpon an unseemlie object, lest ye good instruction might be swallowed vp in disgust. And for a reason like vnto yt he would also have hjs discourses in milde and winning wordes. In generall ye sermon would be an hour and a half long and ye long praier another half houre wch wth ye reading ye scriptures and ye singing would make ye whole above two hours; ye hour glass upon ye pulpitt telling ye time. He did not love sleepers in meeting time and would sometimes stop short in ye exercises calling pleasantlie to some one to come and wake ye sleepers. And once of a warm summer afternoon he did take hjs hat from ye peg in ye beam and put it on, saying he would goe home and feed hjs fowles and come back again when may be their sleep would be ended, and they readie to hear ye remainder of his discourse. And at another time he did exclaim yt he wished for ye Church of England service, wch by making them rise and sit often, would keep them awake. And this wishing for ye Episcopal service one may be sure was competent to keep some eyes open for a month to come.

Ye towne was called Lin in compliment to Mr Whiting, who came here from Lin in old Norfolke. Before wee were called Saugust, wch wee did not mch like, some nicknameing vs Sawdust. Most thot ye name a good one tho some would have it yt it was too short But to such wee said then spell it Lynne. Ye change was made fortie yeare and more agone [1637] and none now find fault.

Mr Whiting his funerall js appointed to be on third day next. And ye whole towne is alreadie in an uproar wth preparations. Wee must entertain manie from abroad and greate store of meate and drink will be needful.

Elizabeth St. John

Samuel, Sr.’s wife, Elizabeth St. John, was born in 1605 in Cayshoe, Bedfordshire, England. Her brother became Chief Justice of England, and Rev. Peter Bulkley, the first minister of Concord, Mass., was her first cousin. Per the Memoir: “Remarkable for her beauty, her dignity and her commanding presence, Elizabeth St. John received in her youth an education which in those days was rare among women.”

Elizabeth turns out to be the apotheosis – or reductio ad adsurdum – of my genealogical quest. She – and consequently I! – was descended from King Henry I of France! Also from William the Lion King of Scotland! Also Kings Henry I, II and III of England! King John! King Edward I! William the Conqueror (in two distinct lines)! Even the Empress Matilda (whoever she was)! As Drake’s History of Boston breathlessly notes, “It is not a frequent occurrence that one person should unite the lineage of TEN of the sovereigns of Europe; and of so many other families of great historical celebrity.”

Rather than tracing each of these illustrious branches back to ancestors who actually lived in trees I will here bring to a close the story of the magnificent Whitings. One final thought: as between doing great and dangerous things and descending from people who did them I heartily recommend the latter.

 

Robert Whiting Mack,

Cambridge, Mass.

January 31, 2011